Is it Possible to be a Casual Christian?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.    2 Corinthians 5:17

Q – Just exactly HOW “Christian” do I have to be, to go to heaven (to be saved)?

A – The short answer is, ALL THE WAY, ENTIRELY Christian.  We either are FOR God or AGAINST Him.  There is no partway.  Being partway (having some Christian-like beliefs, values, or behaviors) can be a step in our journey towards salvation, but it is never an endpoint.  It is not-quite-there-yet.

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked,  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent.  

Revelation 3:15-19

Salvation (going to heaven) is a heart matter of being aware of one’s sinfulness and turning AWAY from it and TOWARDS Jesus.  Having the attitude of wanting as little to do with obeying Jesus as possible likely means the person is not genuinely interested in a relationship with Jesus. “Christian” is a follower of Christ.  If you don’t follow Christ, you don’t go to heaven.

When I first came back to the Bible, I started reading the gospels.  I was startled to be heavily convicted by Jesus’ many sayings which seemed to indicate a total and complete surrender to him was necessary.  He not only did not seem interested in casual followers, but actively repelled them.  Examples such as this:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.   John 6:53-56,60,66

People who had been casually following him, he repelled, by making an “eat my flesh and drink my blood” speech that must have baffled everyone.  Remember, he hadn’t died yet and so they had no point of reference for this.

And another example:

Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”  (Luke 14:25-27)

Hating one’s family to follow him?  Hating one’s own life?  And carrying a cross, no less?  We are familiar with the cross as an ultimate symbol of triumph, through which Jesus obtained victory over death and redeemed us from eternal separation from God.  In the first century, when Jesus was preaching, the cross did not have these connotations.  It was a brutal, humiliating torture device for the worst of criminals.  To follow him is to take up a cross?  There was probably no more unappealing statement he could have made (other than perhaps eating his flesh and drinking his blood).

With those passages in mind, I took inventory of my life, found it fell far short of God’s standard, and was horrified to think that I may not be saved (and perhaps many whom I loved might not be either).

It is by grace alone, through faith alone that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, we can’t have Jesus be our Savior (go to heaven someday) but reject him as our Lord (yield to Him throughout what remains of our life).   “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  Matthew 24:13

So we see that faith, given as a gift by God, is what saves us. But the next verse tells of the results of that salvation: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Rather than being saved by some easy act of our own wills, we are saved by the hand of God Almighty, by His will and for His use. We are His servants, and from the moment of salvation by faith, we embark on a journey of pre-ordained good works that are the evidence of that salvation. If there is no evidence of growth and good works, we have reason to doubt that salvation ever truly took place. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20), and a dead faith is not a saving faith.  Source

Here is a chart that helped me out.  Note that discipleship follows salvation, but both are marks of true Christians.

SALVATION

DISCIPLESHIP

Salvation is free and “without price” (Rom. 6:23; Isa. 55:1), although salvation is certainly not cheap (1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 Cor. 6:20). Discipleship is costly and the cost must be counted (Luke 14:25-33).
Salvation takes place in an instant of time (Acts 2:47). Discipleship is a life-long process (John 8:31; Matthew 28:19-20).
Salvation is believing on Christ (Acts 16:30-31). Discipleship is following Christ (Matt. 4:18-22) and learning from Him (Matt. 11:29).
Salvation is coming to Christ and finding rest from the burden of sin (Matthew 11:28). Discipleship is taking Christ’s yoke and learning from Him (Matthew 11:29).
Salvation involves Christ loving me (Rom. 5:8; Gal. 2:20; John 3:16). Discipleship involves me loving Christ (Matthew 10:37).
A truly saved person is one who believes the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 6:17). A true disciple is one who continues in Christ’s Word (John 8:31).
To be saved a person must fall before the feet of Christ crucified and claim the mercy of God (Luke 18:13). To be a disciple a person must sit at the feet of Christ and hear His Word with a meek and teachable heart (Luke 10:39).
A saved person is a believer (1 John 5:1). A disciple is a learner [the word “disciple” means “a learner, student, pupil, adherent”].
A saved person confesses Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). A disciple denies self (Luke 9:23).
A saved person possesses Christ (1 John 5:12). A true disciple forsakes possessions (Luke 14:33).
Being saved involves trusting (Eph. 1:13). Being a disciple involves training (Matt. 28:19-20).
Salvation involves receiving God’s gift (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8-9). Discipleship involves receiving God’s instruction (Acts 2:42).
Every believer measures up to the full demands of God’s righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Believers often do not measure up to the full demands of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33).
Salvation involves one’s standing in Christ (one’s perfect position in Him). Discipleship involves one’s state (one’s actual practice or condition).
With salvation the emphasis is upon what God has done (1 Cor. 15:3-4). With discipleship the emphasis is upon what man must do (Luke 14:25-33).
The focus of salvation is upon the work of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18). The focus of discipleship is upon the Word of Christ, His teaching (John 8:31).
Salvation is God’s commitment to His Word based on the work of His Son (Rom. 3:24). Discipleship is the believer’s commitment to Christ’s Word based on his relationship to Christ (John 6:68).
The saved person is a saint (1 Cor. 1:2), perfectly set apart and holy in Christ (a position shared equally by all believers). The disciple is a student (Matt. 11:29). Some believers are better students than others.
The invitation to salvation is “Come unto Me” (John 6:37; Matthew 11:28). The invitation to discipleship us “Come after Me” (Luke 9:23).
Salvation requires obedience to the command to believe (1 John 3:23a; John 3:36). Discipleship requires obedience to all of Christ’s commands (Matthew 28:19-20).
Salvation is the sinner hearing His Word and believing on Him (John 5:24). Discipleship is the saint sitting at His feet and hearing His Word (Luke 10:39).
The SINNER must not try to fulfill the demands of discipleship in order to be saved. This would be salvation by works. The SAINT seeks to fulfill all the demands of discipleship because he is saved. This is being saved “unto good works” (Eph. 2:10).
Salvation involves a faith response to the message of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18; 15:1-4). Discipleship involves bearing one’s cross daily (Luke 9:53).
God’s salvation is perfect, lacking nothing (Col. 2:10; 1 Cor. 1:30). My measuring up to the full demands of discipleship is less than perfect, but “I follow after” (Phil. 3:12-13).
To be saved a person must believe on Christ (John 3:16; Acts 16:31). The requirement for salvation is simple faith and trust in the all-sufficient Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. To be a true disciple a person must continue in Christ’s Word, love Christ supremely, deny self, forsake all that he possesses, bear his cross daily, etc. The requirements of discipleship are many and they are difficult.
Discipleship (and all that it involves) is not a requirement for salvation. Discipleship is the obligation of every saved person.
Every saved person is saved by faith and faith alone (not by obedience or by surrender or by submission or by love for Christ or by giving up possessions, etc.). Every saved person is a follower of Christ because Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow Me” (John 10:27). In this sense every saved person is a disciple (follower of Christ), and yet some sheep follow the Shepherd more closely than others.
Salvation relates primarily to JUSTIFICATION. Discipleship relates primarily to SANCTIFICATION.

Justification and sanctification are related but they must not be confused.
They must be kept distinct. The same is true for salvation and discipleship.

Salvation puts a person into a right relationship with Christ the Teacher. Discipleship is an ongoing relationship and interaction between Teacher and student (a lifelong process).

Source

If you are struggling on the precipice of decision, don’t let it go.  Choose today whom you will serve – yourself, or Jesus.

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  2 Corinthians 6:2

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Characteristics of Saving Faith

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Can’t you see for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you–unless you actually fail the test?”  2 Corinthians 13:5

Was I failing the test?  Was Jesus Christ not in my heart?

Deep down, I knew that something was wrong.  I certainly believed in God, Jesus, Heaven, and Hell – I had been raised with this knowledge from childhood.  My life didn’t necessarily look much different because of these beliefs, but I tried to make moral choices.  Why then did I feel so unsettled?  Where was the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, assuring me that I was, in fact, God’s child?

Desperate for confirmation of salvation, I continued to seek reassurance.  I looked up “ways to tell you are saved”, as if Google would be able to bring me relief.

Inner Witness from the Holy Spirit

One of the primary ways people are assured of their salvation is by this enigmatic (to me) inner assurance from the Holy Spirit.

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God”.  Romans 8:16

I didn’t have this.  I agonized over why.

Many people throughout the years assured me of my salvation, because I believed in God.  I had prayed the Sinner’s Prayer many times.  I could recite the facts of the “Romans Road”.  People told me to rebuke doubt and stand on the promises in the Bible – that salvation is a gift, and all I had to do was receive it.

I would give up and try to ignore it.

Not this time.  I pressed on, verses about “examining ourselves to see if we are in the faith” ever before me.  I prayed for understanding, for God to open my eyes.  As I pressed on through the New Testament, the Bible continued to “come alive” in a way I don’t remember happening before.

Not having an inner peace, I continued to look externally – something I could point to and say “Aha!  That proves it.  My salvation is secure.”

The Fruit of the Spirit

As God works in our hearts, we will notice small shifts as the Holy Spirit begins to produce His fruit in us.  We begin to reflect Him, instead of reflecting the world.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:19-23

As I examined my heart, I didn’t see ANY of the fruit attributes – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Certainly, I could exhibit these behaviors sometimes, but when I was “bumped” by life’s troubles, what spilled out?  My life was more marked by depression, anxiety, impatience, anger, materialism (envy), and pride.

I knew I struggled with these things, and kept trying to work on them by my own effort – using self-help books, counselors, medications.  I didn’t understand that our behaviors are just the leaves and flowers of the plant – the real issue is the root, the condition of our heart.  If our heart is full of Self/Sin/Pride, our behaviors will reflect that.  We can’t heal our own hearts.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45

Good Works 

As the Holy Spirit shapes our attitudes and character with His fruit, it will flow out in our behavior as “good works”.  These good deeds do not save us, or “maintain” our salvation, but if we are really saved then we will desire to do good works out of love for God and for each other.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

As I examined my life, I had certainly done some “good-looking” things.  But as I reflected on the attitude of my heart, I had done these things for my own selfish purposes.  For example, as an older teenager I had helped in the church nursery and Sunday School programs – because I found the church service boring.  I had gone on several short-term missions trips – because I wanted to be with my friends on a trip.  Each instance of “helping” had been done with ME as my focus – would I have fun?  Would I be with friends?  Is it what I *should* do, to earn love/favor/acceptance with friends or family or look good on a resume?

I don’t know that I could find a single example of something I had done thinking of God’s heart, with no benefit to myself, if I was brutally honest.

As we take on our identity in Christ, God enables us to see the world through His eyes.  Only then can we be moved to act with His love, His compassion, His purposes.

Repentance and Freedom from Habitual Sin

If we know the truth of the gospel (in our heads), but deliberately choose to continue in sin – then the choice of our hearts is sin.

You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.  1 John 3:5-10  

We all stumble and fall into sin.  However, God does not let us continue in sin without disciplining us.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”  Hebrews 12:5-6 

I began to wonder if those times when everything seemed to go wrong were times that God was allowing hardship specifically to discipline me.  Or was it merely reaping what I had sown?  While my conscience kept me morally in line (more or less), was this an aspect of my upbringing (instilled values, morals kept out of habit or fear of guilt/shame) or was it because I was trying to live to please Jesus?  I most certainly felt uncomfortable with things that were overtly demonic or evil, but was this a result of the Holy Spirit’s workings to bring me to TO Christ or to further me IN Christ?

In Christ we are set free.  We turn away from sin (self) and towards service to Christ.  Without Christ, we can try to “be good,” but we will ultimately be unable to overcome our heart’s inclination to follow our own selfish desires (which plays out in different ways for different people).

Conclusion 

While heaven and hell are certainly real, salvation is not about securing a heavenly dwelling.  Salvation is about me and God.  It is about how I have sinned against Him, and Him alone.  About how I fall so far short of being able to measure up.  There is nothing I can do – nothing at all – to fix myself.

While external demonstrations of faith can indeed reflect the inner conditions of the heart, they cannot “prove” salvation (remember that none of the apostles suspected that Judas was any different from the rest of them).  However, these reflections can help us analyze our spiritual maturity and growth in Christ.

Saving Faith is NOT:

  • a religion, denomination, church, or sect
  • ordinances (baptism, communion, penance)
  • being a good person, doing good things (will/action alone)
  • religious feelings or experiences (emotions/feelings alone)
  • believing in a set of facts including believing in God, or believing Jesus existed (mind/intellect alone)
  • repeating a sinner’s prayer or signing a card, in and of themselves

These experiences can be steps that lead a person into true saving faith, but they do not attest to saving faith in and of themselves.

Saving Faith IS:

  • a condition of the heart.  It has no prerequisites and no formalities (specific rites, like a certain prayer, baptism etc).
  • a personal, individual relationship with Jesus Christ, the Living Word of the Bible.
  • mind/intellect, emotions/feelings, and will/action all acting together in belief (the “heart”) in Jesus (the object of saving faith)
  • repenting, which is:
    • a change of mind – recognizing how GOD sees you (wretched, poor, blind and naked – utterly and hopelessly LOST, dying); and recognizing who Jesus is, your ONLY hope, your Savior, as revealed by his Word (the Bible).
    • It is turning AWAY from doing things our way (living for self – which is the way of the world) and turning TOWARDS Jesus (who frees us from the power of sin, and enables us to follow Him).
    • It may or may not involve feelings.  It is not the same as guilt, shame, sorrow (but these may be present as well).  It is more like a “lightbulb moment”.

The Life Within – Conception, Fertility, and Loss

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16

When I was trying to get pregnant with our second child, I had joined several online fertility communities.  I had the profound experience of being able to share an intimate picture of fertility (and infertility) with other women – challenges conceiving, the sorrows of repeated miscarriage, the excitement of conception, and the anguish of stillbirth.  These women treasured each embryo as a child.

The signs of life were humanly detectable as early as 8 days, with faint double lines visible on the earliest pregnancy tests (if held under “just the right light” and magnified on screen – posted for all to scrutinize, which we dutifully and excitedly did).  My son announces his presence as an 11 day old embryo:11dpo

On the one hand, we celebrate new life.  We can connect with our unborn babies as never before – hearing their heartbeats, seeing them move and grow within our bodies as early as 4 weeks after conception.  We name them, frame pictures of them, take movies of them, and buy them presents – all before they are born.

On the other hand, when a human embryo/fetus is “undesired”, it is named “Tissue”.

When we have difficulty conceiving, we have devised all kinds of fertility treatments.  When we don’t wish to conceive, we have devised all kinds of birth control methods.  When we don’t wish to conceive but do anyways, our society condones the removal of the “products of conception”.  We are obscessed with control over life and death.

We treat human lives as disposable.  This abortion clock is staggering.  Over 1.3 billion babies have been aborted since 1980 worldwide – by far the largest toll on human life that has ever occurred in human history.  But without a belief in God, what makes human life inherently valuable?  Or any life, for that matter (but please observe that we don’t generally abort unwanted litters of puppies and kittens… and there are laws to protect unborn endangered non-human species – such as bald eagles).

Sex is fun.  But it produces babies – that is its’ primary biologic purpose.  Babies are not always that fun.  And here is our society’s conundrum.  We want to do whatever we want, with no consequence.  Making, and taking, lives is acceptable – even celebrated – in our godless society.  “I do what is right for me”.   If I do what is right for me, what if YOU are in the way of ME?

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.   Proverbs 14:12

Mother Teresa

The abortion rates and general acceptance worldwide are a major flag that is pushing the end of God’s tolerance.  Each and every one of those babies has a voice that is crying out to the God who made them.  God hears them, and will respond.  A time of judgement is near, but there is a way out.  And that is only through God’s grace and the forgiveness he provides through Jesus.

I believe these babies, in their innocence, all go to heaven.  Sin did not have a chance to spring up in them, and thus they are still blameless before God.  These children will live forever, in eternity, yearning to be joined by their mothers and fathers and siblings.  There is only one way to get there and be with them.

I strongly believe that in this life, nothing happens by accident or coincidence – things aren’t determined by fate or luck (good or bad).  I believe there is an overarching story – a beautiful picture of love, loss, and redemption – and that there is Someone who cares and is in control.  You are already a part of this story, whether you know or believe it or not.  While the end of the story has already been written, your own part lays open before you for you to choose your ultimate destiny.  Perhaps our coinciding struggles have been finely orchestrated to lead you to this one moment: The Bridge to God.

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